Schools' £17m wellbeing fund: All teachers need to know

The government has announced £17m to boost mental health in schools. But what is the cash for? And are the plans new?

Ruth Emery and Charlotte Santry

Schools' £17m mental health funding: What teachers need to know about the wellbeing package

The mental health and wellbeing of school staff and pupils is feared to have taken a huge hit during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But while mental health is often seen as a neglected area, it has received significant attention in recent days, with two major government announcements relating to schools.

However, some of this has been announced before.

Tes has examined the announcements in detail: here's everything you need to know:

What mental health support in schools has been announced today?

The Department for Education has announced a £17 million fund to help primary schools, secondary schools and colleges provide better support and expert advice on mental health issues.

What does the money cover exactly?

There are three parts to the funding.

Up to 7,800 schools and colleges in England will be offered funding worth £9.5 million to train a senior mental health lead from their staff in the next academic year. The government has committed to offer this training to all state schools and colleges by 2025.

There is also a £7 million Wellbeing for Education Recovery programme, which provides free training, support and resources for staff dealing with children and young people experiencing additional pressures from the past year, such as trauma, anxiety or grief.

The programme builds on the Wellbeing for Education Return programme, which launched last summer, which was worth slightly more than its successor, at £8 million.

And a further £1 million will be spent on a link programme to improve partnerships between local health and education leaders.

Is this a new announcement?

Not really. The training for mental health leads was first mooted back in 2017, and was part of the then health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s plan to provide mental health access in schools. 

In December 2018, the government launched 25 trailblazer regions to pilot proposals from its mental health Green Paper for children and young people – which included every school having a designated mental health support lead. 

The DfE issued a 2019 procurement notice for "a supplier, or consortium of suppliers to deliver a national senior mental health leads training programme".

However, training for mental health leaders in schools was paused last January, the Health and Social Care Committee heard in March.

But an early engagement notice was published by the DfE in February of this year, stating that the new round of training is now due to start this autumn.

What support will schools receive?

Information published by the DfE today as part of its latest procurement exercise says the department is working on the basis that, from the 2020-21 academic year, a fixed-value grant will be offered with sufficient funding provided initially, up to March 2022, to train "a senior lead in around a third of schools and colleges".

The grant will consist of £800 to purchase training, and "a contribution to backfill the senior lead engaged in training (equivalent to two days of supply teacher costs)".

A list of "assured senior lead training courses for schools and colleges" will be published "ahead of the start of the new academic year".

How do schools apply for the support announced?

Schools and colleges will be invited to apply for a grant online for senior leads training from September 2021.

Is the £17m part of the £79m announced by the Department of Health and Social Care to support mental health teams in schools?

No, the DfE confirmed to Tes that today's funding is separate, and is in addition to the £79 million mental health support teams being implemented across 3,000 schools by NHS England.

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Was that £79m a new announcement?

No, NHS England reannounced this at the weekend but it had been unveiled back in March.

How have schools reacted to the news?

Headteachers say it’s a step in the right direction, but that more should be done to tackle the underlying causes of child mental health problems, particularly child poverty. They also said the recent investment comes after “years of government underfunding”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said children returning to school after the pandemic needed not just academic help, but a wide range of pastoral, mental health and wellbeing support, too, all of which requires additional resources.

What about teachers’ mental health?

The government also published an Education Staff Wellbeing Charter today, designed to improve the mental health of school and college workers. It includes 12 commitments by the Department for Education and Ofsted, including reducing unnecessary workloads, championing flexible working and diversity and improving access to mental health resources.

It also includes 11 actions that schools, colleges and trusts can pledge to take to improve staff wellbeing. The charter is voluntary and will become available this autumn for those wanting to sign up.

In addition, the DfE has appointed Timewise – the national flexible working training provider – to train staff to implement flexible working where possible, and eight flexible working ambassador schools will champion best practice and work with other schools locally.

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Ruth Emery and Charlotte Santry

Find me on Twitter @charlottesantry

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